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United Airlines tech glitch is bad -- but company's response is worse

Stranded United Airlines passengers attempt to access the self check-in computers at the United Airlines terminal after the computer system came back up at Los Angeles International Airport.

JEREMY HOBSON: Now to the not-so-friendly skies some passengers experienced over the weekend. Many flights were cancelled and about a hundred were delayed not because of weather or a problem with the planes. But because of a computer glitch at United Airlines.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh reports.


EVE TROEH: United Airlines passengers stared at blank arrival and departure screens Friday night. Then lined up for hours to get hand-written boarding passes.

Cranfield School of Management economist Sean Rickard flew from JFK to London Saturday. He wasn't on United, but their angry customers were everywhere.

SEAN RICKARD: People felt they hadn't been kept informed. They hadn't been treated very well. Was just horrendous. And that was the day after it happened.

He says this type of accident could hit any airline. It's United's response to the computer failure that's most troubling and will lose them customers.

RICKARD: How many years is it going to take to get them back again? So the damage can be enormous.

U.S. Airways saw a three-hour computer crash Sunday morning. It did not cancel any flights.

I'm Eve Troeh, for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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The United computer crash was a nightmare for my daughter. She is 15, and was connecting in Dulles on her way to a two-week volunteer program in Ghana. She was with two other girls, and their late evening flight was cancelled because of the computer crash. It was the middle of the night, and United rebooked them for 48 hours later, offering no hotel or even a meal voucher. As bad as airline travel is these days, I never would have guessed a major airline could be so completely callous and irresponsible. The least they could have done was put them on the flight scheduled for the next day, and not keep them waiting 48 hours.

I was travelling from Heathrow back to Charleston on Sunday. Despite having my contact info, it wasn't until I was checking my bags that I was made aware of the issue. The agent kindly booked me on the last flight from IAD to CHS, but for a four-hour delay I received no meal voucher or any other compensation. I normally fly Delta (voucher-happy in Europe, btw), and this incident assures that I'll not fly United again.

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